Saturday, June 6, 2009


Liz Burns has a terrific analysis of a recent WSJ article about young adult fiction. I agree with almost everything about what she says, so I'm just going to point you there.

The article is riddled with the factual errors you usually find in articles about kids' and YA books, and Liz details some of them. (It occurs to me that probably most articles are riddled with errors; this is just the stuff I happen to know about.) But overall, for once, they're on the right track. And what I especially liked, and what Liz didn't like, was that the article cited "Mary Ingalls going blind" as an example of how YA literature has always included some dark stuff. I didn't like that they said she went blind in Little House on the Prairie, when everyone KNOWS it was By the Shores of Silver Lake, which actually is a YA book. But I think it was a great example to use. Mary's blindness really is very dark and sad, though I think I see that more now, as an adult. And I love it when people writing about this stuff look at a broad historical range. (You've all heard my Newbery rants, I'm sure, about how if anything Newbery-winning books used to be even darker, like Strawberry Girl and Roller Skates.) Liz would prefer Robert Cormier as an example, but by using Mary Ingalls, the journalist reaches back further and makes a less obvious example that will really make people think.

I would also like to note that:
-I don't really think The Hunger Games is that dark, and
-Please, tell me WHEN YA has chiefly consisted of "fizzy escapism". NOT EVEN IN THE FIFTIES, PEOPLE.


Wendy Burton said...

Wait, what am I saying? The Hunger Games is crazy dark. I guess when I don't think about it hard, the parts of The Hunger Games that really stick in my head are the funny parts. "Thanks for the knife" is probably my favorite line (though I may be misquoting it). Even THAT--oh, yeah, Wendy, that's not dark at all. Someone tries to throw a knife through Katniss's skull; whoop-ti-do.

I guess I just have this reaction to people describing it as "teens trying to kill each other", which doesn't really get its essence.

Anonymous said...

I just finished The Hunger Game a few hours ago. I agree - very much not "teens trying to kill eachother", but definitely dark.

Have you read the Tomorrow, When The War Began series? That's what it reminds me of most strongly, though there are plenty of other stories that are closer in plot.

I don't understand the WSJ's article. Has there really been such shift from Gossip Girls to darker subjects? Both categories have been there as long as I've been reading YA. Has their proportionate popularity actually shifted recently, or is the author setting up a false dichotomy?

Rhiannon Hart said...

I found moments of The Hunger Games very dark--probably the most striking moment was when nothing was actually happening: Katniss was standing on the mine waiting to be transported into the arena, all alone, pretty sure she was about to be hacked to pieces and her sister and mother starve to death. Very affecting. Anyway, off to read that article you mentioned now...

Rhiannon Hart said...

Just read the article. Ugh, journalists. The poor things have to find SOMETHING to write about that sounds vaguely current, and end up with a total beat-up about something being NEW NEW NEW when, really, we all know that stories of death, anorexia and suicide are far from new.

Wendy Burton said...

Yes, exactly, Rhiannon--it's remembering that kind of scene in The Hunger Games that made me go back and add the comment. Most of the killings, eh--not so very bad. But the whole idea of the society and the way things are manipulated--that's definition dark.

As I mentioned on Liz's blog, though, I don't think the purpose of the article was to imply that this is a new trend, and that's why she did bring in Mary Ingalls. Very likely she was either asked to write something about this "new trend", or that's the article she set out to write, but realized that wasn't a very good thesis. Argh, cannot believe I'm standing up for Katie Roiphe.

Ocelot, I do think that maybe there's been a little shift at least this season, that the very bestselling / most talked about books are particularly bleak--compare If I Stay and Wintergirls, for instance, to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which was much sold and talked about not long ago. But yes, definitely agree that there's always been fluff and always been bleak.

Liz B said...

I didn't have time to do a very well thought out post; part of what bothered me about the Mary/Blind bit is I think it shows an awareness of the TV show, not the book, which is why she used the wrong book-name. I do appreciate the idea of going even further back in time to show darkness in books teens were reading.

Mary didn't go blind in the books; it happened between them. (If I recall correctly, By the Banks began with Mary being blind? Two or so years had passed since the prior book?)

I think if Roiphe had read the LHOTP books recently, or at all, she would have picked Long Winter to illustrate her argument. As a grown up rereading? The near starvation, the flat out stealing, the cold, that was much darker than Mary's book-storyline (IMHO.)

Wendy Burton said...

Nope, it's Silver Lake that starts out with Mary being blind, but yes, the actual going-blind aspect happens between books. And I'm sure you're right about her remembering the TV show and not the actual books (though even as a kid I remember thinking the scenes where Mary's losing her vision were pretty hokey, even for LHOTP). I definitely agree that The Long Winter would have been a better example.

Kathleen McDade said...